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Saudi Arabia Cracks Down On ‘Peaceful Dissent,’ Sentences Journalist To Five Years In Prison

CREDIT: Saudi Press Agency via AP

Saudi King Salman, middle, watches military exercises code named North Thunder with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, on March 10, 2016.

Saudi Arabia sentenced a journalist to five years in prison over a series of tweets, in what human rights organizations are calling the latest crackdown on free expression by the oil-rich kingdom.

In addition to spending five years in prison, Alaa Brinji was sentenced to an eight-year travel ban and a 50,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (about U.S. $13,300) fine. Brinji is a prominent Saudi journalist who was arrested in May 2014 and initially held in solitary confinement and without access to a lawyer. According to Amnesty International, Brinji’s crimes don’t fit the bill.

He was convicted by Saudi Arabia’s notorious counter-terrorism court, known as the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), on a range of charges, including, “insulting the rulers of the country”, “inciting public opinion”, “accusing security officers of killing protestersin Awamiyya”, “ridiculing Islamic religious figures” and “violating Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law”. The court also ordered the closure of his twitter account. All of these charges stem from tweets he posted online some of which were in support of Saudi Arabian women’s right to drive cars, human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.

“The sentencing of Alaa Brinji to a five year prison term is utterly shameful,” James Lynch, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme said. “He is the latest victim of Saudi Arabia’s ruthless crackdown on peaceful dissent, where the aim appears to be to completely wipe out any and all voices of criticism.”

Saudi Arabia’s system of government is that of a royal monarchy, ruled with a theocratic system of governance. Criticisms leveled at the Saudi state, rulers, or policies are regularly met with excessive repression. Earlier this month, a Saudi writer and Islamic scholar named Mohanna Abdulaziz al-Hubali was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison and given a six-year travel ban after he is released. “He was convicted of a number of ‘offences’ including violating Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law by ‘insulting the state and its rulers’ and ‘being in solidarity with imprisoned members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association’ (ACRPA) on Twitter,” Amnesty reported. “He was also found guilty of inciting and taking part in demonstrations and calling for the release of prisoners of conscience.”

In January, the Saudi government captured international news when it publicly executed 48 people, including Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent sheikh who was vocal about the oppression of the country’s minority Shia population. Human rights groups were extremely critical of al-Nimr’s detention and execution.